Public pressure has been mounting in the wake of last week’s sudden cut in Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG) and Local Transport Services Grant (LTSG) by Welsh Government Minister Carl Sargeant.
Key sections of the Welsh media, including the Daily Post, Western Mail and BBC Wales have carried stories highlighting the significance of the decision and its wide ranging effects on the country’s local bus networks. Indeed, BBC Wales TV News used Tanat Valley Coaches as a case study and interviewed a passenger and the managing director Mike Morris.
Now, political pressure is mounting too. CBW understands several Assembly Members (AMs) have commendably met with their local bus operators and taken an active interest in the matter.
In a debate about public transport on Tuesday (January 24) during First Minister’s Questions at the Welsh Government in Cardiff, Alun Ffred Jones (Arfon, Plaid Cymru AM), asked: “Your Government in Wales has just cut the grant for bus companies by 25%. That is higher than the figure in England. This is the grant which helps with fuel duty payments. This cut has been made with just 10 weeks’ notice, although contracts are in place with the county councils. Why is this cut so high in Wales and why was so little warning given to the bus companies, which will suffer as a result and will have to cut services?”
The First Minister Carwyn Jones (Bridgend, Labour AM), replied: “The subsidy continues to be higher (35.28p) than it is in England (34.57p) per litre of fuel. Given the funding we have received from London, we have to consider how to cut some services. Unfortunately, this is an area in which we have to reduce the sum made available, but I once again emphasise that more money is available per litre of fuel in Wales than in England.”
In fairness, the First Minister highlighted a matter which has without doubt been hitherto underreported – the reduction in the Welsh Block Grant from Westminster. For the year 2010-11, that figure stood at £16.4bn, while it has been cut to £15.3bn for 2011-12.
There is however, a glimmer of hope. John Pockett, director of government relations at CPT Cymru told CBW: “The BSOG cut is to be examined by the Enterprise and Business Scrutiny Committee, which looks at transport priorities in Wales. We will be presenting evidence to the committee, which will hopefully highlight the devastating effect this cut in BSOG, coupled with that in LTSG, will have on bus passengers across Wales. I will continue to lobby on behalf of the industry. Despite this body blow, it’s vital to maintain dialogue with the Welsh government.”